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Group pushes for bill to pay Illinois caretakers $20 an hour

Illinois state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago. Greg Bishop | Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — Although Illinois is on a path to a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage, some state lawmakers want to raise pay for publicly-funded home care providers for the disabled to more than $20 an hour.

Direct service providers are largely paid via Medicaid funds via a waiver attained by the state. Illinois will pay the providers the majority of their wages through an organization and half of those payments would be reimbursed by federal funds.

If Evanston Democratic Rep. Robyn Gabel’s bill becomes law, the 30,000 providers who care for the disabled would be paid at least $5.25 more than the minimum wage. Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, has similar legislation in the Senate. After 2021, they would receive $6.75 more than the minimum wage. That could be up to $45,000 a year for a full-time worker.

Advocates say the pay bump would help address a shortage of people willing to work what can be a difficult job.

Kim Zoeller, CEO of the nonprofit Ray Graham Association, said the rising wages from an improving labor market means they’re losing more workers to other jobs. The higher minimum wage makes it more difficult.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with that,” she said. “If we don’t pay caregivers – people with other people’s lives in their hands – more than minimum wage, we’re turning our backs on thousands of people with disabilities and their family members who rely on this life-sustaining care.”

Jon Riches, director of national litigation with the Goldwater Institute, said that the minimum wage hike is already distorting the market. He said that the bill could be very expensive for taxpayers.

“This legislation sounds like it’s going to have a tremendous budgetary impact,” he said.

Gabel’s legislation could be heard in committee next week. Steans’ bill is in an unscheduled committee at this point.

A spokesperson from the Department of Human Services didn’t immediately have an estimate for the cost of the legislation.

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